Public and Private: More Thoughts from the AMS Summer Community Meeting

by William Hooke, AMS Policy Program Director
A post from the AMS project, Living on the Real World
Back in the 1990s, while still working at NOAA, I was once part of a two-day U.S.-Japan bilateral discussion in Tokyo on science and technology issues. Bill Clinton was President. Walter Mondale, Jimmy Carter’s former Vice President, was then ambassador to Japan. Tim Wirth, who at that time was Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs, was leading this particular delegation. Wirth, Mondale and the rest of us from the U.S. side were in a big meeting room with the Japanese. Leaders from Japanese government and industry filled the room, under auspices of MITI, the Japanese Ministry for International Trade and Industry. The Japanese couldn’t comprehend why the United States was moving so haltingly on a range of environmental and hazards matters.
“You have to understand,” Tim Wirth was saying, “that if government and industry worked with each other in the U.S. the way you do in Japan, people would go to jail.”
Tim Wirth’s remark has everything to do with this week’s discussions at the AMS Summer Community Meeting in State College. Two points: First, and foremost, this is our history and our policy in America. Our nation decided long ago that we wanted a free-market society, with minimal government. We wanted government to focus primarily on regulations that would foster capitalism and business competition, and at the same time curb corruption, restraint of trade, monopolistic practices, and other abuses. Second, this approach is a policy, a choice, or framework of choices, not an inescapable reality. Other governments are free to adopt other approaches, and have, as the Japanese example illustrates.
Well, as is so often the case, you pick your poison. The Japanese approach spurred

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Plans Shaping Up for Seattle

by Peggy Lemone, AMS President
A little over a year ago, when I was asked to choose a theme for the 2011 AMS Annual Meeting, I was drawn immediately to something to do with communication.  Within my family, and among acquaintances, communication about climate change, and even in parts of the AMS, had sometimes turned from a conversation to an argument.  But it wasn’t only that.  It was becoming more and more difficult to find out real news:  the media were increasingly flooded with lots of opinions, and one had to burrow down to find the facts.  Ironically, coverage of the day-to-day weather seemed better than ever.
Or was it?  Coverage of the French airplane crash over the Atlantic fumbled at first; no one seemed to have their facts straight.   And Katrina reminded us of the importance of communicating with diverse groups of people.  With numbers of journal pages increasing geometrically, and the field becoming broader, how well do we even communicate with each other as scientists? Some have asked if peer review even works.  Finally, and perhaps most important, how well are we getting our messages to the public?  Are we really communicating?
To address this broad theme is a real challenge, but we have settled on a few major events at the Annual Meeting in Seattle.  On Monday, we will hear about issues encountered by the media in communicating about weather and climate.  Bob Ryan, a long-time weather broadcaster, will moderate the panel, which will consist of Tom Skilling of WGN/TV and the Chicago Tribune, Claire Martin, the chief meteorologist of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Chairman of the International Association of Broadcast Meteorologists, and Doyle Rice, weather editor of USA Today, and a fourth panelist who has not yet been confirmed.  Some questions to be discussed, though not an exhaustive list, include: how are stories chosen? Where does information come from?  What is the impact of blogs and other modern methods of communication on what people learn about weather and climate? And finally – how can the AMS community help out?
On Tuesday, we use a “teachable moment” to illustrate our effect on the environment.  Many of us have learned through experience that putting hundreds of people into a room with a poor air-conditioning system can heat up a room to uncomfortable levels.  With a good air-conditioning system, we stay a little cooler, but more energy is required to cool the room.  A group of students and vendors will be circulating through the conference the first few days to measure our impact on the air inside the Convention Center.  The students will report back at lunch on Tuesday, and David Sailor, Director, Green Building Research Laboratory (GBRL) of Portland State University and Chair, AMS Board on the Urban Environment, will put this in context, showing how we are part of the energy budget of a city, influencing not only the climate in the convention center, but the city’s climate as well.  This event is being coordinated by David Chapman, a high-school teacher form Okemos, Michigan, and Chair of the AMS Board on Outreach and Pre-College Education, and Daniel Wolfe, of NOAA/Boulder.
On Thursday, Ralph Cicerone, head of the National Academy of Sciences, will provide us a take-home message on what the scientific community in general and AMS in particular can do to increase its credibility with the public.  He has been thinking deeply how we can improve the practice of science and the behavior of individual scientists.  As much as listening, communication is based on some level of trust.  And, just as the Tuesday event should provide a teachable moment about how we influence our environment, the climategate emails were a teachable moment about human frailty being a part of the practice of science.  The current political climate has been reinforced by climategate and a few errors in the IPCC report in damaging the trust the public feels not only in climate science, but science in general.  Viewing this in a positive manner, it gives us incentive to re-double our efforts in promoting ethical professional conduct and improving the way we do business and communicate our findings.
Even when the dialog between the sciences and the public become difficult, communications through the art can break through the barriers felt on either side.  The arts can communicate the joy of witnessing a beautiful cloud formation or the concern we feel about the impacts of weather and climate.  Thus Lele Barnett is curating an art exhibit featuring over thirty artists from the Seattle area, focusing on the conference theme of communicating weather and climate. Some of the artists will collaborate with a scientist to explore themes ranging from the influence of the landscape by weather to scale as visualized in clouds to processes taking place at the interface between parts of the earth system to the impacts of climate changes in the polar regions. At each step, we have benefitted from the considerable help of Marda Kirn, head of EcoArts Connections in Boulder, Colorado, who has organized a variety of arts/science events around the country.
Those are some big events in the 2011 AMS Annual Meeting at this stage in their evolution.  We expect refinements, and there will be additional items to report on as the joint themed sessions and other parts of the meeting come together.  We invite you to comment, share your thoughts about communication, or suggest questions you would like the Monday panel to address.    We will report from time to time as the program continues to evolve.  Hope to see you in Seattle!
Editor’s Update, October: Thanks to the combined efforts of EcoArts Connections, Curator Lele Barnett, and AMS Conference Chair Peggy LeMone and Committee Member Steve Ackerman, many of the artists in the show have been paired with scientists to collaborate to create new works for Forecast.
Scientists come from universities and research centers in seven states in the US and Australia.  In addition to Washington, the states are: Colorado, Illinois, Montana, New York, and Wisconsin.
The scientists’ areas of study include: Arctic sea ice; atmospheric boundary layer; atmospheric chemistry; climate dynamics and change; cloud physics; eco-meteorology; hydrology; mesoscale analysis, convection, forecasting, and meteorology; oceanography; optical sciences; paleoclimate; precipitation physics; radar; regional climate; weather; and wind energy.

Looking for Answers at the AMS Summer Community Meeting

by William Hooke, AMS Policy Program Director
(Note: This is one of the first postings from Dr. Hooke’s new blog, Living on the Real Earth, an American Meteorological Society project probing some of the basic questions underlying the goals of our community as it serves society.)
Here’s a question. Why should a blog claiming to look for answers to big issues (what kind of world is likely? what kind of world do we want? what kind of world is possible if we act effectively?) zoom in on a few hundred people meeting in the middle of Pennsylvania for four days?
Here’s the answer. Because this handful of people, due to a convergence of circumstances – some strategic, and some accidental – holds some of the keys to the kingdom.
Let’s begin with a look at who’s here in State College for the 2010 AMS Summer Community Meeting. Participants are for the most part in the business of answering the first question: what kind of world is likely? That is, they provide weather and climate products and services, or they are doing the research that provides the basis for those products and services. That said, they have a range of backgrounds. They’ve come from all over the United States. Some are from the public sector, from government agencies. Some are from for-profit corporations. Some work in research universities. Within each sector, participants run the gamut from bench-level scientists and forecasters to managers of such work to high-level policy officials and corporate leaders. A considerable number have played several different roles over extended careers. Ask them whether they are private-sector or public-sector, or scientists or leaders, and they’ll either tell you what their job title is at the moment, or confess that they’re conflicted.
Secondly, if asked what kind of world they might want, they wouldn’t try to oversimplify that world. They wouldn’t seek to control climate or weather, or limit its variability, or even eliminate hazardous events; they wouldn’t see that as realistic. They’d say instead that they want a world where regardless of what the weather and climate might do next, these changes can be anticipated, in time to seize the benefits (the water for crops, the good weather for transportation or recreation, etc.) and moderate the hazards (the cycles of flood and drought, the damaging storms, and so on). They’d hope their science and services could be used to save lives and property, foster economic growth, protect the environment and ecosystems, and promote geopolitical stability.
Neither would they try to oversimplify the coping strategies. They wouldn’t see the job as all public-sector, or entirely corporate. They wouldn’t see decisions and actions as

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